Akalaupdate: Andrew has released images of all the towns in the game (Britain, Cove, Buccaneer’s Den, Fawn, Jhelom, Lord British’s Castle, Minoc, Montor, Moon, Paws, Skara Brae, Trinsic, Vesper and Yew), as well as the tileset (which is a hybrid of Ultima 3, Ultima 4, and Ultima 5′s tilesets). I have added this as a gallery component to the project entry.
I’m writing the engine for am 8-bit (Z80-based) computer that never had a version of Ultima released for it back in the day. It has 128K of RAM, a 256×192 pixel display (with two colours per cell – although I have a software workaround for that which extends it to 8×1 attributes in the view window), and no standard disk system (so I plan to do the whole thing as single load from tape). It has no video chip, so the screen is stored in main RAM. Oh and the extra RAM is paged in banks of 16K (hence the 128×128 map limit). I’ve solved the problem of the display size by reducing the view window to 9×9 (as per U6) and using a 6×8 font. You might well ask why I don’t do it on something more modern, but I enjoy the challenge. On the flip side there are emulators for the target machine available for just about any device you care to name (it should look lovely on the Nintendo DS).
As I said, this was all back in January. I took note of it then, but failed to follow up on it. It was brought back to mind when Andrew posted the “in progress” menu screen that he has made for the game:
See? Ultima 3.5!
Thus far, he hasn’t (that I’ve noticed) posted a link to a project website, nor has be posted downloads. Then again, given the platform the game is targeting, that’s really not surprising.
I’ll be adding a project entry for Pax Britannia in the next day or so, but in the meantime I have added a project entry for Pax Britannia. If you’re on Facebook, be sure to follow Andrew’s posts at the UDIC Facebook group for more information and updates as he posts them!
Mass Effect 3 has, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, been basking in the glow of critical praise since its launch, with the vast majority of the numerical scores assigned to it north of 90% (with a fair number of 100% scores being turned in, to be sure). Ten Ton Hammer’s review, which scores the game at a mere 77%, is probably the most negative review I’ve seen to date, and here’s what they had to say:
This game has too many plot holes for such a great studio and house of writers. The reapers can purge entire galaxies, instantly bypass Earth’s defenses and take over the moon before anyone notices, yet take their sweet old time purging one planet?
I love this series, and I still enjoy this game. But I don’t enjoy it because Mass Effect 3 is a great game; I enjoy it because of the scenario and characters built up over the last few years. Standing alone, Mass Effect 3 is a cover shooter with a few decisions and side quests to complete along the way while the Reapers take their sweet time incinerating Earth. As much as I love chilling with the old cast once more, I can’t believe I have to prove myself to the same clans whose asses I’ve saved over the past few games time and time again, and STILL people are like, “Reapers? Don’t know what you’re talking about Shepard.”
So while the writing and pacing may detract a bit from what should be the most epic of space conflicts, you’ll still have a good time blasting the hell out of aliens, robots, and your former employer. It just doesn’t feel like as big of a step forward as the second game was from the first.
The one other review I want to highlight quite specifically is PC Gamer’s, because a lot of what they say comports with my experience of the game thus far, and also articulates many of the same concerns that I have begun to have about it:
Mass Effect 3 tries for the best of both worlds: an urgent and galaxy-critical plot that directly involves the entire crowd of oddball personalities the series has built up. And it works.
Inside of 20 minutes, you have a crucial goal and a clear route to achieving it. And unlike the previous games, every sidequest and adventure along the way is connected to that. The war gives everyone a reason to need your help, and everyone you help has reason to join the war.
Each away-mission to these places is a substantial, satisfying fight against one of several different factions. The combat feels another notch more impactful than that of Mass Effect 2. The classes are stronger and more distinct: the Infiltrator bursts heads with every sniper rifle shot, the Vanguard can slam herself into enemies over almost any distance or obstacle, and the Adept flings crowds of enemies into the air and rips them apart with biotic combos.
You fine-tune these powers as you level up, deciding between, say, a longer cloak duration or the ability to use one power without revealing yourself. And the weapons you find and buy give you interestingly different compromises between fire rate and stopping force — tweaked further with mods.
But the most radical and effective change to the RPG side of combat is the ability to choose your own balance between weapons and abilities. Any class can now take one of each weapon type into a fight, but the more you carry, the slower your powers recharge.
The game does indeed force you to make use of its upgrade trees, and its weapon and armor modification elements as well. Granted, these aren’t sophisticated crafting systems of the sort that grace Reckoning or Skyrim, but they add a nice personal component to the loadout kit your Shepard carries into battle, and the mods and upgrades do require you to think about your combat style and what changes to your weapon would most benefit that.
The introduction of weapon weight, and the attendant penalty applied to power recharge times, also forces you to think about your play style. I’ve downgraded my soldier Shepard, who in previous games would have gladly rocked four or five weapons, to just the two she uses most: a sniper rifle and an assault rifle. The combat in the game is fluid (though I still prefer Reckoning’s), for the most part, and I’m enjoying what little of the story I have thus far experienced.
All is not roses, however:
The spacebar — previously only used for sprinting, ducking, taking cover, using switches, talking to people and vaulting over things — is now also used for diving away from cover too. It makes an already maddeningly imprecise system utterly ridiculous. At least half my deaths were from the spacebar not doing what I expected it to.
We’re on PCs. We have 128 keys. We can handle a separate button for taking cover.
I griped about the cover system previously, after playing the demo for the game. It hasn’t changed in the release version, and while I have gotten used to it and mostly tamed it, it still occasionally results in my Shepard doing silly things like moving between cover when I want her to charge forward, or tucking and rolling at odd intervals. That hasn’t got me killed as yet, but given what I’ve read about some of the new enemies, I figure it’ll only be a matter of time.
And then there’s the ending, and what affects it:
In singleplayer, everything you do accumulates ‘war assets’. When you finish the game, how many of these you have determines how good an ending you get: how well the final fight goes for your side. Success in co-op multiplies your war assets, up to twice their normal value. That means that if you only play singleplayer, or want to finish singleplayer first, you’ll have to grind the living hell out of its most tedious fetch quests to get the best ending.
These quests generally involve scouring the galaxy for a planet someone mentioned, scanning it, then returning to the Citadel. I did every proper quest I could find, but didn’t play multiplayer and skipped most of these empty FedEx ones. The ending I got… I won’t say how, but it could have gone a lot better.
In general, too, the end of the series is a mixed bag. Satisfying in some ways, nonsensical in others, and ultimately too simple. But the sheer scale of the adventure it’s ending – and the music, which is gorgeous throughout – gives it an emotional impact that goes beyond its plot payload.
It left me feeling incredibly sad.
This is a good time to move on to the next content I intend to link to.
I did every proper quest I could find in Mass Effect 3, made sensible decisions that didn’t conflict with my choices in the previous games, and brought people together. But I still got a gallingly bleak ending.
That’s because I’d never played the multiplayer. It’s a co-op mode where you and up to three other players have to survive waves of AI enemies and complete objectives. If you succeed, you get an increase to your Readiness rating — a percentage by which your single player War Assets are multiplied by. These are specific to each sector fo the galaxy, so if you have a lot of War Assets in the Terminus Systems, you’ll gain more by playing on a multiplayer map set in the Terminus Systems.
There are (I think) five areas of the galaxy, all of which start at a default readiness rating of 50%. I gather that the overall readiness rating is a simple average of all five areas, which means that you need to hit each area in multiplayer a few times in order to boost the overall galactic readiness rating by a respectable amount.
Here’s the part that is, as Tom Francis puts it, rather galling. Now, this assumes in part that IGN’s guide to the game’s endings is accurate in terms of what point values are required to hit each variation of the ending (lower point values lead to bleaker endings), but for now let’s assume they’ve got the general idea down. To achieve the best possible (or, at least, the least bleak) ending, you will need 5,000 effective points. In a purely single-player context, with galactic readiness locked at 50%, that means that you need to accrue 10,000 war asset points during the course of Commander Shepard’s final adventure.
Which would be great…but based on some research I did last night, it would seem that there aren’t more than 7,000 war asset points to be found in the game, and that’s assuming quite a bit; choices you made in the first two games may set you up to lose hundreds of points, with no way to avoid or circumvent this outcome.
Now, to be fair, I’m glad that this is the case in one sense; I have said before that I wanted BioWare to make my renegade character pay for being a genocidal asshat. It looks like he’s on course to suffer a pretty grim outcome as a result of various…choices he has made over the course of the last few years.
But it also seems that my pure paragon character, who is well-positioned to leave the galaxy a better, more unified place in Mass Effect 3 and who, with a few minor exceptions, is poised to maximize her war asset gains during the course of play, is also condemned to a grim ending overall…unless I mess with the multiplayer aspect of things, which is something that just fails to appeal to me.
It’s all rather…dirty. Presumably they’re trying to encourage you to try the multiplayer because to do well in it, you have to buy or earn unlockable items, and you can get these for real money. But they’re doing it by hurting your single player game, slapping a good playthrough with a bad ending as a penalty for not playing co-op. Even if you like co-op, it’s not unreasonable to want to play through the single player first.
There is one other hope, and that is the two iOS games that BioWare has prepared as companion apps for Mass Effect 3. There’s Infiltrator, which casts you in the role of a Cerberus operative and which involves doing missions that should, in theory, boost your galactic readiness rating (which is tied to your Origin account, which in turn is how these games link in to it). And there’s DataPad, which…I don’t really know what it does, actually.
And yes, I do find this all incredibly annoying. The “Day 1 DLC” controversy didn’t bother me…but this does. Fortunately, I do know of one sure-fire workaround, but it does involve the use of a savegame editor. Which I really do eschew the use of under normal circumstances, because I’d like to pass games on my own merit.
From Ashes is the at-launch DLC that came free with the Collector’s Editions of the game, and which is available to everyone else for $10. RPS took a look at it separately from Mass Effect 3. I won’t excerpt their review, because it’s impossible to avoid the limited spoilers therein, but in general I find their commentary to be something I agree with. The new character introduced in from Ashes circumvents a lot of expectations that the previous two games have built up, and provides some opportunities for both comic relief and dramatic tension with certain characters, especially the asari Liara.
But I can’t help but shake the feeling that From Ashes also represents something of a missed opportunity for BioWare. I’m willing to accept their story that this DLC was not removed from the finished game and that it was, in fact, developed during the gap between the internal final release and the public release of the game. But it still feels like something that should have a) been in the main game, and b) should have been expanded upon, especially given the main MacGuffin in the game.
If you get hit with the dreaded “face import bug” (and it really is only the face; plot flags import just fine), there is a pretty easy workaround for it. You’ll need to use this site to get a face code from the YAML file.
Then, start a new game in Mass Effect 2, import a previous save game, and then choose to customize the face anyway. Paste or enter the generated face code, and…well…you won’t get the same Shepard you imported, but she’ll be close. Skin colour will probably be wrong, as will hair colour, hairstyle and nose shape. But the general face structure should be good.
And then, as Sergorn Dragon quite astutely pointed out, you can make adjustments to the custom face, then click “Back” to return to the imported face, compare the two, then return to the custom face to make further adjustments. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes…and at the end of the process, Mass Effect 2 will be displaying the correct face code for your character. Which you can then copy and paste into Mass Effect 3.
And they are…mixed. Some reviews pan the game for lackluster voice acting or spotty controls, other praise it for graphics and the way it ties in to the main story.
I’ve got it on my iPhone, and I have played a bit of it. The controls are indeed a bit spotty, although not more so than any other mobile game. Graphically, it looks awesome, and…well, I’ll tell you about the story when I get further into it.
Honestly, the final boss in Mass Effect 2 wasn’t anything major, at least in the sense of being a terrifying opponent. As a revelation of what Reapers are, though, it’s rather interesting, and sets up the foundation for a fine up-ending of what these galaxy-destroying menaces are that Mass Effect 3 is able to capitalize on.
…a total remake of Black Isle’s original Icewind Dale in the NWN2 engine. In addition to sporting the entire campaign and all of Jeremy Soule’s original music, the mod allows for a full six-character party, just as it should. You’ll need the Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir expansions to install it, but that amounts to a very small entry fee these days
The module boasts a party editor, basic crafting, support for all the races and classes from Icewind Dale, and even support for NWN2′s online play (although this hasn’t been extensively tested).
I rather enjoyed Icewind Dale back when it first came out; I might have to give this module a look once I’ve polished off a couple other games in my queue.
Some interesting developments from the Nuvie ChangeLog, the Nuvie team is starting to develop what is probably the most sought after feature of all time, a full-screen mode similar to what was seen in the SNES version of Ultima VI. It’s still very much a work in progress, and a lot of features such as conversations are not yet supported full-screen, but they’ve already added a new spellbook GUMP which I think looks great.
Ultima VI in Fullscreen
Go check out Nuvie! I’m super excited about this development, since I’ve always felt Ultima VI‘s claustrophobic play area was the biggest drawback of the engine.